RIP Sister Wendy

I have always been drawn to people who zig when the rest of the world expects them to zag. I delight in those who refuse to be defined by others. They are the ones who often make us see things in a different way.

Sister Wendy Beckett was definitely one of those people. She entered a congregation of religious sisters at the age of 16, and spent much of her life in silence and isolation. In many ways she might be considered old-fashioned. A consecrated virgin, she continued to wear the habit when many of her contemporaries were donning ordinary clothes. She was a member of the very conservative Carmelite order.

And yet.

Sister Wendy was also highly educated and was drawn to the teaching profession. She was known as an art historian, and that brought her to the attention of the BBC. It is through her very popular appearances on the BBC and PBS that many of us got to know and love Sister Wendy, a woman who would otherwise have spent her entire life out of the public eye.

Having a nun wax poetic about the beauty of the naked human body was enough to make one blink. But she did so, enthusiastically and with no apologies. She had a delightful sense of humor. She loved art, and beauty in all its many forms.

She, herself, could not be considered a classic beauty. She wore thick glasses, had protruding teeth and a speech impediment. The rest of her was shrouded in black. And yet her beauty shone through in her enthusiasm, her intelligence, her thoughtfulness and her kindness. She is the only nun I have ever wanted to hug.

She also did not shy away from discussing controversial art, such as a photograph by Andres Serano of a crucifix soaked in urine. She did not react with outrage. She gave a thoughtful critique of this artwork. She did so confidently. According to this article, “The work could be interpreted as a critique of the way modern man had despised the self-sacrifice of Jesus Christ, she thought. In her view, it was not a great work of art, because it was not the kind of thing one would want to look at twice, but it might be a valid piece of commentary.”

She would probably be shocked to hear that I consider her the ultimate feminist. She chose the life she wanted to live. She lived it. She didn’t take into consideration what anybody might think. She lived, she learned, she spoke her truth.

Sister Wendy Beckett was always true to herself. And from that position of strength and confidence, she loved her god, adored art, and treated her fellow humans with dignity and respect. She was an amazing woman, and the world will be ever-so-slightly less bright and ever-so-slightly more predictable without her.

Sister Wendy

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Why Not Build a Castle?

If I had the luxury of having any career in the world (and some magic guarantee that I’d be able to make a living at it), I would be an experimental archeologist. I love to learn by doing, and there’s no other job in the world that allows you to do just that to such an extreme degree. There’s so much that we don’t know about how things were done in the past, and the best way to figure it out is by actually getting in there with the tools and materials that were available at the time and working it out as you go along.

For example, there’s a medieval castle construction site in the Burgundy region of France that I’d love to check out. It’s called Guédelon Castle, and it’s been a work in progress since 1997. There was an excellent BBC series on it called Secrets of the Castle that I highly recommend. You can watch it on Youtube. It gives you a strong sense of the many things that they’ve learned about the castle building process that were previously unknown.

When you think about history, you tend to think it was all about kings and lords and popes. These were the people whose lives were written about. You also get the impression that life was all about one long series of wars. Those were the events that made the “headlines.” Very little is known about the day to day life of the commoners and laborers. They either couldn’t write themselves or didn’t have the time or supplies. But their lives are worth knowing about as well.

There’s so much to learn from the past. And sometimes the only way to learn it is to actually try to live it. Oh yeah. That’s the job for me.

[Image credit: guedelon.fr]
[Image credit: guedelon.fr]

Walk Your Life

I’ve been watching a BBC series called Tribal Wives on Youtube lately. The premise is that they have a British woman live with a remote tribe for a month and take on the role of a Tribal Wife. Women have been sent to Thailand, Gabon, Mexico, and Namibia, to name a few locations.

It’s really fascinating to watch someone cope after being forced to cast off all the modern “comforts” of life, such as cell phones and indoor plumbing. It’s interesting to see them struggle with the day in and day out grueling work that comes with living rough. For many women in the world, life is really, really hard.

But what I enjoy most is seeing what inevitably happens. These women generally assume that they will have nothing to learn from these uneducated, poverty-stricken, deprived people. But by the end of their stay, they discover that there’s a certain wisdom that comes from not being distracted by all the extras of modern living. There’s a certain glory to just living. Just getting on with it.

In the episode I watched today, a woman from London was placed with the Raramuri tribe of Northwest Mexico. This is a woman who spends a lot of her time worrying and overthinking things, and not trusting people. She lives with this tribe, learns their customs and traditions, and works side by side with the women. Her nervous nature becomes all too evident by comparison.

Their advice to her is not to think so much. Basically, she needs to get over it. Just relax and do what needs to be done. The Raramuri have a saying, “Walk your life.” Sometimes the most profound insights come in deceptively simple packages.

Just walk your life.

Tribal Wives

[Image credit: bbc.co.uk]